Richard III will be reburied in Leicester Cathedral on March 26, after months of debate concerning both his final resting place and the plans for the ceremony. On the CTV news channel, I discussed Richard III’s contentious reputation from Shakespeare to modern times, the controversy surrounding the funeral plans and what Richard III himself might have thought of the arrangements.
When Victoria became Queen in 1837, she shut the door of the royal bedchamber to the public. The government officials who traditionally attended royal births were relegated to the adjoining room while only the Queen’s consort, Prince Albert, and medical staff were permitted in the bedchamber for the arrival of the royal children. The Queen observed a strict separation between her public life and her domestic life. In Tales from the Royal Bedchamber, Dr. Lucy Worsley, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, reveals that the monarch’s bedchamber was a ceremonial space in Tudor and Stuart times where proximity to the monarch meant proximity to political power.
Worsley presents the history of the English royal bedchamber with enthusiasm and energy. She climbs into beds to test just how comfortable they were, showing that it was impossible to lie entirely flat on a hammock-like, collapsible medieval royal bed frame. She also tries her hand at silk weaving. Sitting on the edge of royal beds, Worsley has interesting discussions about royal marriage, mistresses and childbearing with a broad range of fellow curators, historians and authors such as Anna Whitelock, Tracy Borman and Helen Rappaport.
Perhaps the most engaging part of the documentary is Worsley’s description of the rumours that the son of James II and Mary of Modena, born in 1688, was a “warming pan baby” smuggled into the Queen’s bed to replace a stillborn child. Worsley shows viewers a warming pan, an early form of hot water bottle that was too small to hold a baby, draws the supposed route the warming pan took through state rooms to the royal bedchamber and describes the crowd that witnessed the actual birth. The warming pan baby story was a convenient fiction to justify the Glorious Revolution&accession of William III and Mary II.
Since Worsley is chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, much of the documentary is filmed in royal bedchambers of the Tower of London, Hampton Court and Kensington Palace. There is also a visit to the Isle of Wight to view the memorial to Queen Victoria in the private bedchamber where she died at Osborne House. If the program were longer, a trip across the channel to Versailles would have shown the origins of certain late seventeenth century English court practices. It is no coincidence that the late Stuart monarchs commissioned elaborate state beds after the Restoration of the English monarchy in 1660. Charles II was first cousin to Louis XIV and spent part of his exile in France, observing the elaborate ceremonies that took place when the King rose from his bed in the morning or retired in the evening.
Tales from the Royal Bedchamber is a look behind the royal bed curtains of centuries past. Before Queen Victoria shut the door, the whole court thought they had the right to know exactly what took place in the royal bed. The modern fascination with the private life of the royal family is as old as monarchy itself.
“The remains of King Richard III continue to yield new information about one of England’s most controversial kings and his family. DNA analysis reveals that Richard’s bones share mitochondrial DNA, which is passed through the female line with the Canadian Ibsen family, but there is no genetic match with his male line relatives. The release of these findings has prompted speculation about the Queen’s right to reign if there was a break in the main royal bloodline. The royal succession, however, was not always determined by seniority in the royal family….”
Curious to learn more about the life and legacy of King Richard III? My University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies course “Richard III: Monstrous or Misunderstood?” begins January 7, 2015. Click here to register!
My column in the Ottawa Citizen this week discusses the long history of Scotland’s independence being influenced by the arrival of a royal baby. Mary, Queen of Scots succeeded to throne at only six days old and speculation that James II’s son was a spurious, “warming pan baby” contributed to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and eventual Act of Union in 1707. With the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence on September 18, there is speculation in the British press that the announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will have a second child next year may influence Scottish voters to elect to remain part of the United Kingdom.
In 1538, King Henry VIII of England received a report that Caernarfon Castle in Wales was “moche ruynous and ferre in decaye for lackke of tymely reparations.” With the Tudor dynasty on the throne, descendants of Henry V’s widow, Katherine of Valois and her Welsh steward, Owen Tudor, there was less need for fortifications to keep the English and Welsh apart, as a conquering Edward I intended in the late thirteenth century. By the reign of King James I (1603-1625), only the Eagle Tower and King’s Gate still had roofs and the buildings inside the castle were “all quite faln down to the ground and the Tymber and the rest of the materialls as Iron and Glasse carried away and nothing left that [is] valiable.”
The magnificent ruins of Caernarfon Castle still bear the evidence of centuries of neglect. Reaching the top of the Well Tower, which once housed the the massive castle cistern, requires a long climb up a stone spiral staircase into the darkness above. The narrow steps are uneven from centuries of use and exposure to the elements. (The Well Tower was still unfinished in the 14th century and did not receive a roof until the 19th century restoration of the castle). There are ropes to assist visitors up the medieval steps to see Edward I’s view of the village of Caernarfon and waterfront. Once at the top, Edward I’s plans for his new castle become clear. There is space for an entire royal household in the turrets as well as massive fortifications designed to enforce England’s conquest of Wales.
In 1282, Llywelyn “the Last,” the final Welsh ruler from the House of Gwynedd died in battle against English forces. Edward I seized the opportunity for a complete conquest of Wales. The King sent Llywelyn’s only child, Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn, to a distant Lancashire convent and began construction of a series of castles around Wales. Edward I’s queen, Eleanor of Castile, accompanied the King on the 9th Crusade and she was also present for his occupation of Wales. In 1284, the royal couple’s son, the future Edward II, was born in Caernarfon during the construction of the Castle.
According to a legend dating from the 16th century, Edward I promised the Welsh a prince, “borne in Wales and could speake never a word of English,” beginning the practice of the King’s eldest son serving as Prince of Wales. While some of these Princes, including Henry VIII’s elder brother, Arthur, spent time in Wales learning the business of kingship, more than half of the “Princes of Wales” never visited Wales. Caernarfon Castle rarely served its intended purpose as a Welsh residence for the Prince of Wales. Instead, the castle became a local prison and storage facility for armaments, gradually falling into disrepair.
The castle returned to prominence in the 20th century when it became the site of investiture for Princes of Wales. In 1911, David Lloyd George, the future Prime Minister and member of parliament for Caernarfon Burroughs, was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he favoured a Welsh investiture ceremony for the future Edward VIII as Prince of Wales. The ceremony, which took place in Caernarfon Castle, sped the restoration work.
In 1969, the current Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, was also invested as Prince of Wales in the castle. In contrast to previous Princes of Wales, Charles made efforts to learn the language and customs of Wales before his investiture, completing part of his university education in Aberystwyth. The current royal family continues to maintain close links with the region.
Following their wedding in 2011, William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, resided in Anglesey while William worked as a Search and Rescue pilot. Edward I arrived in Wales as a conqueror but William and Catherine arrived as residents eager to blend into their surroundings, finding a degree of privacy and normalcy in the early years of their marriage. Caernarfon Castle is now a World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Wales.
Next: Cornet Castle in Guernsey, the last Royalist stronghold during the English Civil Wars
King Henry VIII’s mother, Elizabeth of York, has emerged from the shadows. After decades of obscurity compared to her son’s six wives, Elizabeth is now the subject of popular biographies and historical novels alike including Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy License and The White Princess by Philippa Gregory. The England of Elizabeth’s lifetime has also captured the public’s imagination. The recent discovery of the remains of Elizabeth’s uncle, Richard III, has revived interest in the Battle of Bosworth Field where her future husband, Henry Tudor seized the crown and founded a new dynasty that united the Houses of Lancaster and York. In Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen, Alison Weir, author of sixteen medieval and Tudor biographies and five historical novels tells the story of the first Tudor Queen and her tumultuous times.
Elizabeth was popular in her own lifetime and idealized by Victorian biographers because she appeared to be the ideal Tudor wife, mother and queen consort, providing quiet support and legitimacy for Henry VII’s rule. While source material concerning Elizabeth’s life, particularly before her marriage, is frustratingly incomplete compared to her more famous children and grandchildren, Weir emphasizes evidence that she exerted influence over her family and court. The “Song of Lady Bessy” imagined her actively plotting to place Henry Tudor on the throne and secure their marriage. Her account books as queen reveal her extensive charitable activities and court patronage. Elizabeth also worked with her powerful mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, to influence Henry VII’s policies, particularly the dynastic marriages of her children. There are a few places where speculation is presented as fact, most notably Weir’s controversial view that Elizabeth “was actively pushing” for a marriage to her uncle, Richard III, but most of the analysis of Elizabeth’s character is clearly supported by surviving source material.
In additional to revealing Elizabeth’s full role at the Tudor court, Weir provides an evocative portrait of her world. Elizabeth’s father, Edward IV, imitated the sumptuous display of the Burgundian court and the young princess therefore grew up in an atmosphere of great luxury. At the same time, the political circumstances of the Wars of the Roses made her position precarious. She experienced two periods of sanctuary in Westminster Abbey and was declared illegitimate by Richard III before becoming Henry VII’s queen. The disappearance of Elizabeth’s brothers, the Princes in the Tower, remains a mystery to the present day. Weir is critical of revisionist interpretations of Richard III’s reign and blames him for the death of his nephews, summarizing convincing evidence from her previous book, The Princes in the Tower.
The second two thirds of the book is stronger than the first because there are more sources about Elizabeth’s time as a queen than a princess. The early chapters would benefit from a more thorough discussion of English attitudes toward female succession in the Middle Ages. Weir writes, “in the fifteenth century it would have been unthinkable for a woman to succeed to the throne” but there had actually been plenty of debate about women’s succession rights. William the Conqueror’s granddaughter, Matilda, briefly held power in 1141, during a Civil War with her cousin, King Stephen.
England explicitly upheld women’s succession rights during the reign of Edward III when a proposal to introduce a Salic law was defeated by parliament. The Wars of Roses resulted in both men and women losing succession rights that they would have enjoyed in peacetime. Outside England, there were prominent examples of female rulers in the fifteenth century including Queen Isabella of Castile and Mary, Duchess of Burgundy. A key reason why Henry Tudor was determined to marry Elizabeth, and there was speculation that Richard III contemplated marrying his niece, was because she was a rival claimant to the throne.
Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen is a well written and interesting portrait of Elizabeth of York’s life and times. Weir captures the unique circumstances of Elizabeth’s world, which combined sumptuous display and deadly political intrigue. Greater attention to the medieval English debate over female succession would have made the narrative stronger, demonstrating how Elizabeth’s granddaughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I were able to establish themselves as England’s first undisputed female rulers.
I am quoted in Sarah Hampson’s article “Will a ‘regal makeover’ mean the end of winsome Kate?” in the Style section of today’s Globe and Mail. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will visit Australia in April and there is a great deal of speculation that Catherine’s wardrobe will incorporate jewels from the royal collection. There is a long tradition of royalty displaying their status through elaborate clothing and jewels. In Hampson’s article, I mention the regal fashions of Queen Elizabeth I.
If your plans for 2014 include travel in the United Kingdom and France, pack a copy of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn by Tudor history enthusiasts, Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger. As the subtitle states, the book is “The visitors companion to the palaces, castles & houses associated with Henry VIII’s infamous wife” but the book is much more than a travel guide. Morris and Grueninger have written an unconventional biography of Anne Boleyn through the lens of the places she visited and provided a unique snapshot of Tudor court life by retracing Henry VIII’s and Anne Boleyn’s 1535 progress. In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn is also a unique architectural history of Great Britain and France and an enjoyable travelogue about the authors searching for long lost Tudor palaces and abbeys.
Admirers of Anne Boleyn usually imagine the controversial Queen in three settings: Hever Castle, where she spent part of her childhood, Hampton Court Palace, where she presided over the Tudor Court with Henry VIII, and the Tower of London where she spent her last days before her execution. All three of these places are tourist attractions that attract thousands of visitors every year, who often forget that the sites no longer look the same as they did in Anne’s lifetime. Morris’s and Grueninger’s research reveals that Anne may have visited more than seventy places scattered throughout England, France and Belgium over the course of her short life.
By examining Anne’s life through its settings, the authors bring often overlooked aspects of the Queen’s character to the fore. Her time as a member of the household of Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy and Queen Claude of France meant that she was far more well traveled than Henry VIII, who never saw the Chateaux of the Loire Valley. Anne’s travels also revealed that she had a wide network of social and political connections and was clearly comfortable engaging with everyone from Kings, Queens and Duchesses to humbler clergymen or gentlefolk who hosted the royal party on their progresses. Most biographies of Anne Boleyn focus on her relationship with Henry VIII or her Boleyn and Howard relatives. Morris and Grueninger bring the full extent of Anne’s experiences and social circles to the fore, including key primary sources along with descriptions of palace and abbeys.
The travelogue aspects of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn are just as interesting as the source material about Anne Boleyn’s life and Tudor times. In the modern age, any house where Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed during their courtship and marriage is worthy of preservation in its original state but that was not the view in past centuries. The dissolution of the monasteries during the English reformation that permitted the marriage of Henry and Anne, resulted in the destruction of abbeys that the couple once visited together. Casualties of the English Civil Wars in the 1640s included key Tudor historic sites and Napoleon III’s transformation of Paris in the 19th century destroyed much of the medieval city. The settings of Anne’s life that survived into the 18th and 19th centuries often experienced “improvements” by Romantics or Victorians designed to evoke the feeling of a bygone age rather than the precise architecture. As a result, a book like In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn is necessary for tourists to distinguish original Tudor buildings from modern innovations.
Morris and Grueninger include their own impressions of each site in the narrative including frank comments about whether each the various obscure settings of Anne’s life are worth visiting. I have visited many of the palaces in the book, following the footsteps of Queen Henrietta Maria rather than Anne Boleyn and it’s great to read the impressions of other travelers who have walked around the ruins of Wolvesey Castle in Winchester and journeyed to Saint-Germain-en-Laye outside Paris to find traces of royal life in the rooms that now house the National Museum of Archaeology. I have noted some places in the book for my next visit to the United Kingdom and France this August. In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn will appeal to a wide audience of readers interested in Anne herself, the times she lived in, how the architecture of England and France has changed over the centuries and planning a trip to historic sites off the beaten path.
There is an entire sub-genre of Tudor themed historical fiction that centers around conflict between two “Boleyn Girls” at the Tudor court. All these novels present two female archetypes and place them in conflict. The most famous of these novels is of course Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, which imagined Henry VIII’s mistress Mary Boleyn as “the good sister” devoted to her home and children, and his second wife, Anne Boleyn as “the unscrupulous sister” determined to become and stay Queen at any cost after the end of her betrothal to the future Earl of Northumberland. In Murder Most Royal, Jean Plaidy contrasted the lives of two “beautiful cousins,” Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard who both married Henry VIII and were both ultimately beheaded.
Not every novel about Boleyn women includes Anne. In Elizabeth I: The Novel, Margaret George contrasted Elizabeth I with her Boleyn cousin Lettice Knollys imagining the Queen as a woman who sacrificed having any sort of personal life to maintain her position while Lettice surrendered to her passions. All the Boleyn women were more complex personalities than they have been portrayed in historical fiction. In The Boleyn Women: The Tudor Femmes Fatales Who Changed English History, Elizabeth Norton, author of ten books about the Tudors including Bessie Blount: The King’s Mistress, Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Discarded Bride and Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s Obsession, reveals the true story of eight generations of Boleyn women, placing the famous Anne Boleyn and Queen Elizabeth I within the fascinating context of their Boleyn extended family.
Long before Anne Boleyn caught the eye of Henry VIII, the Boleyn family were well known for advancing themselves from the “middle class” to the nobility through advantageous marriages. Norton reveals that the families of these Boleyn wives contributed more to their families than their lineages and inheritances. Anne’s great-grandfather, Geoffrey Boleyn trusted his wife Anne Hoo Boleyn so implicitly that his will gave her the authority to arrange her children’s marriages and divide the family silver between them. There is no evidence that the marriage of Queen Anne Boleyn’s grandparents, William Boleyn and Margaret Butler was as close but Margaret was devoted to advancing her children and staking her claim to the Irish earldom of Ormond.
The best chapters of The Boleyn Women are the sections that reveal how little known members of Queen Anne’s extended family navigated the treacherous politics of the Tudor court. Anne’s aunt, Lady Shelton found herself in a particularly difficult situation when she became Governess to Princess Elizabeth, head of a royal household that also included Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter from his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Although Anne instructed her Aunt to treat Mary harshly, Lady Shelton appears to have become close to her charge and they continued to exchange gifts long after Anne Boleyn’s execution. Lady Shelton’s daughter Mary or “Madge” as she is better known became an accomplished poet and a rival to her cousin, the Queen, for Henry VIII’s affections.
The wife of Anne Boleyn’s brother George, Jane Parker, came from a family that sympathized with Mary’s cause and another one of Anne’s aunts, Anne Tempest Boleyn, was expected to report her nieces conversations during her last days in the Tower of London. Norton’s book reveals that there were divided loyalties within the supposedly united “Boleyn faction” and that a number of Anne’s aunts and cousins in addition to her sister-in-law remained at court after the famous Queen’s execution.
Since Norton reveals fresh details about the lives and divided loyalties of so many obscure Boleyn women, the least compelling chapters of The Boleyn Women are actually those that focus on the most famous members of the family, Anne Boleyn, her sister Mary and Queen Elizabeth I. The Boleyn Women is unlikely to be the first book on the Tudors chosen by a general reader but will instead appeal to those already interested in the life of Henry VIII, his wives and his children. Readers who are familiar with Norton’s other works on the Tudors, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: ‘The Most Happy’ by Eric Ives or Mary Boleyn: Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir will skim through the sections on the famous Boleyns to learn more about their little known aunts and cousins.
In The Boleyn Women: The Tudor Femmes Fatales Who Changed English History, Elizabeth Norton reveals the complex role of the Boleyn wives, daughters, mothers, aunts and cousins in the rise and fall of the famous family. The Boleyn women launched their children into the English nobility and many survived the fall of Anne of Boleyn, remaining at the Tudor court as Henry VIII married four more times and Elizabeth I became the sole Boleyn woman to rule England in her own right.
There are two kinds of Scottish King and Queens in the popular imagination. There are the larger than life figures who have passed into legend such as MacBeth, St. Margaret, Robert the Bruce and Mary, Queen of Scots. Then, there are the monarchs considered forgettable or ineffectual, ascending to the throne as children, fighting losing battles against the English or their own rebellious nobles and often dying violently in the prime of life. In The Kings & Queens of Scotland, Dr. Timothy Venning, author of The Kings & Queens of Wales and The Kings & Queens of Anglo-Saxon England, places Scotland’s legendary monarchs in their proper historical context and reassesses the lesser known King and Queens, revealing their achievements as well as their challenges before the Union of Crowns in 1603.
The strongest chapters of the book deal with the five successive Stewart Kings named James who reigned from 1406 until the ascension of the six day old, Mary, Queen of Scots in 1542. In contrast to their more shadowy predecessors, there is more surviving source material about Stewart Kings and the emerge as distinct personalities as well as political figures. James I of Scotland was a Renaissance man, who read classical philosophy, composed love poetry to his future wife, Joan Beaufort while a prisoner in the Tower of London and introduced tennis to the British Isles. His son James II introduced new military technologies to his kingdom, losing his life when one of his new cannons misfired during a siege.
James III was an anglophile who relied heavily on the advice of his mother, Mary of Guelders, one of Scotland’s most capable regent Queens, and pursued interests in literature, music and architecture. In contrast, James IV befriended the enemies of the Tudor dynasty, supporting rebellious Irish magnates and Perkin Warbeck, the most significant figure to claim to be one of the “Princes in the Tower.” James’s marriage to Henry VII’s daughter, however, gave his descendants a strong claim to the English throne.
Mary, Queen of Scots’ father, James V, was known as the “People’s Prince” and might have enjoyed a successful reign if he had not died at the age of thirty. Venning considers each reign within the broader context of Scottish history, revealing how some of the seemingly obscure or ineffectual monarchs contributed to the centralization of the state, legal reform and cultural patronage. Even, Mary, Queen of Scots, who is better known for her failures than her successes on the throne emerges in Venning’s book as “a competent and adroit sovereign” during her first years as an adult Queen in Scotland. Venning blames her second and third marriages for her her ultimate downfall.
Unfortunately, the opening of The Kings & Queens of Scotland is densely written and may not have as much appeal for general readers. Venning devotes the first chapter to the convoluted genealogies of the Kings of the Picts, Dal Riada and Strathclyde. Although there are clear family trees included revealing the complicated rotations between different ruling families and the significance of female descent, this early history is difficult to follow and readers may want to begin with chapter two and rise of the House of Dunkeld. The early chapters also focus quite narrowly on the relations between each monarch and his nobles. More detail about how royal decisions affected ordinary Scotsmen and women would enhance Venning’s analysis of the successive monarchs.
Venning concludes the book with the 1707 Act of Union that created “Great Britain” from the formerly distinct kingdoms of England and Scotland. Charles I was the last Stuart King to have a separate coronation in Edinburgh and the later Stuarts paid little attention to their northern kingdom. Venning ends with “the extinction of one [Stuart] line and the rigid Francophile Catholicism of others” but it would have been interesting to read subsequent chapters about the revival of the monarchy’s interest in Scotland during the reigns of King George IV and Queen Victoria and the effect that devolution may have on the current Queen’s relationship with Scotland. The Kings & Queens of Scotland is an excellent introduction to Scottish royal history that will leave readers interested in learning more about Scotland’s monarchs.